In an ideal scenario: 5,000-6,000 prisoners can be released - Committee
By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
In the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee appointed to make recommendations on the possibility of providing legal redress for prisoners who have been charged with or have committed minor offences, and those unable to meet bail conditions, envisions, in an ideal scenario, the release of 5,000-6,000 prisoners.
The committee expressed hope that the entire process, including the release of prisoners, in spite of the logistical challenges posed by COVID-19, could be completed within two weeks.
Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) Secretary, Kaushalya Navaratne, who is a member of the committee, speaking to Ceylon Today, explained that there are two categories of prisoners under immediate consideration for release, adding also that there were others, who though not under immediate consideration, too were deserving.
Among the prisoners under immediate consideration are approximately 1,463 prisoners who have been enlarged on bail by Courts/the Judiciary, but are languishing in prisons owing to being unable to fulfil the bail conditions that have been imposed, and prisoners who have been charged with committing minor offences and can be enlarged on bail, however, have not been.
In the case of the latter group of prisoners, that is those who have been charged with committing minor offences and can be enlarged on bail but have not, Navaratne said that the Judicial Service Commission and the Attorney General's Department will be consulted.
Of the prisoners who though not under immediate consideration, also were deserving, Navaratne observed that there were those convicted of major crimes such as rape, murder and drug trafficking, including those who had received the death sentence for such (and in certain cases have already served 30-40 years in prison), who were in the last stage of their lives owing to ill health or old age, and no longer posed a threat to society if released.
"The situation in prisons islandwide in terms of the number of prisoners is highly alarming and in fact scary. It is completely overcrowded. Where there should be 9,000 prisoners, there are approximately 26,000, the latter figure which includes roughly 16,000 remand prisoners and 10,000 convicts. Any release, however, must be done very carefully, so that none of the releasees pose a threat to civil society."
Other committee members include Prisons Commissioner General, Jayasiri Tennakoon and Prisons Deputy Commissioner, Venura Gunawardhana, Director General of Legal Affairs of the Presidential Secretariat, Harigupta Rohanadeera, BASL President, President's Counsel (PC) Kalinga Indatissa, Shavendra Silva PC, and Attorney Susara Dinal.